If you have ever cooked a turkey, you probably have done it the traditional way: roast it in a conventional oven! Some have gotten adventurous and have used “commercial cooking bags” (which do cut down on cooking time and lessens the mess!) But according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), there are several alternate routes to take the turkey to the table. The information that follows is taken from the USDA’s article “Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table.” (The full article, complete with instructions, can be found at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/, search Turkey: Alternate Routes or you can call QVHD, 203 248-4528 for a copy). For any of the following methods, the only way to know for sure that the turkey is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. The internal temperature of the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast must reach a temperature of 1650 F.
Did you know you can cook a turkey from a frozen state? According to the USDA, it is safe to roast an unstuffed turkey from the frozen state; however, it will take longer than a fresh or thawed bird. Consult a timetable for the appropriate size of your turkey and add 50% of that time for the total time. DO NOT smoke, grill, deep fat fry, slow-cook, microwave or use a cooking bag for a frozen turkey.
It isn’t summer anymore, but grilling is popular throughout the year. The USDA says you can grill a turkey. A pan of water is placed beneath the grilling surface to catch the fat and juices that drip from the turkey as it cooks. Cooking is done by the hot, smoky, steamy air. You can use a gas grill or a charcoal grill. It is recommended that you don’t stuff the turkey if using a charcoal grill. The turkey must be completely thawed for the grilling method. (You might want to try this before serving to guests!)
Turkeys can be smoked. There are several commercial smokers on the market. You must follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper cooking. Turkeys for smoking should not be stuffed and should be thawed. Deep fat frying is another cooking method, yielding a crispy skin and juicy meat. Stores sell a special fryer for cooking. Turkeys should be thawed, unstuffed and less than 12 pounds in size. Special caution must be used when heating this quantity of cooking oil. Be sure the fryer is in a safe location. Follow the equipment’s instructions. They are there for a reason.
Microwaving turkey is a method that can be used to cook a whole or cut-up 12-14 pound turkey. It should be placed in a covered dish. Time is dependent on the capacity of your microwave. Because a microwave oven sometimes cooks food unevenly, a cooking bag will aid in the heat distribution. Do not stuff the turkey when microwaving.
Slow-cooking a turkey in a crock pot is also a possible method that can be used. However, the turkey must be cut-up into parts or quarters. You must include liquid with this method. Generally, you start the cooker on high for at least an hour. Minimize the amount of time you take off the lid as it can take up to 20-25 minutes for the temperature in the cooker to build back up.
The last method discussed in this article is to use a pressure cooker for cut-up turkey parts (not a whole turkey). Many younger chefs have probably never used a pressure cooker. But it does cook and tenderize meats and poultry in a relatively short period of time. (You can also do hard vegetables like winter squash and pumpkins very quickly.) Most foods cook in about a third or less time than a conventional oven. Liquid is used to create the steam that cooks the food. You must follow the manufacturer’s directions as the pressure needs to be maintained and the lid must not be removed until the pressure lowers and the pot cools. A pressure cooker can seem a little scary at first, but it does provide a quick way to cook foods.
For my family, I think I will stick with the conventional oven. But no matter which method you use, don’t forget about the giblets. Check to see if they are packaged in a plastic or paper bag. If they are in plastic, you should remove them before cooking. Remember, only a food thermometer can tell you if your turkey is safe to eat.
This column does not provide the complete instructions for these alternate methods For a copy of this USDA article, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) should call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request on line, firstname.lastname@example.org.